How do you define a legend?
Well, it’s fair to say things have slipped, haven’t they? Skewed by the absolutism of modern football fandom and the character limits of the platforms upon which these debates now play out. If we can’t even discuss greatness properly, how can we be expected to define it?
So to slip away from the world of caps-lock shouting and look at pure numbers, a player with more Premier League goals (86) than Eric Cantona and Andriy Shevchenko combined sounds like someone who belongs among the elite.
A centre-forward who has scored more than Carlos Tevez (84) or Fernando Torres (85), nestled between Torres and Eden Hazard and Dennis Bergkamp (87) on the list despite playing 35 fewer games than the non-Flying Dutchman sounds like one who would be firmly residing on the league’s Mount Olympus of strikers, doesn’t he?
Only 45 of the 4,535 players who have played in the Premier League since it began 30 years ago have scored more. And nobody has more stoppage-time winners.
And yet it’s hard to imagine that this is how Christian Benteke will be remembered.
It feels as if Benteke’s career has attracted more attention for unpalatable mockery than for his unplayable moments. But when he did rampage, he was one of the best to do it. On his hot streaks, defenders had no answer for his mixture of technique and athleticism.
Conversely, few forwards endured such punishing and high-profile droughts. When the well ran dry, he didn’t drink for months.
In 1886, the French people gave the Statue of Liberty to their counterparts in the United States of America.
In 2022, Patrick Vieira has given them Benteke, for a nominal fee.
Perhaps generosity can turn a nation, but both might as well have been made out of solid copper and would be as tough to dispossess with their back to goal.
Some years ago, in a career that has seen him win the World Cup and captain Arsenal through an unbeaten league season, Vieira said that “the evolution of society dictates the evolution of the game”, and it bears some relevance to the forward he just sold to DC United of MLS.